The Ontario Reign have turned their season around, but they are still waiting on key contributions from several players, including Aidan Dudas.
Mikey Eyssimont found a wide-open Kale Clague circling the front of the Tuscon Roadrunners net, who sniped a shot past netminder Connor LaCouvee to give the Ontario Reign a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory on Friday night. The Reign, who started the season 1-10-2, have won six of their last eight games.
“When you have a lot of players trying to find out how they fit into the team, and they’re also trying to survive in pro hockey, it takes some time,” said head coach John Wroblewski, who is in his first year with the Reign.
A major factor has been 2020 second-overall pick Quinton Byfield’s emergence as an 18-year-old in a 20-year-old league, thanks to the suspended restrictions of the Canadian Hockey League. Byfield saw his five-goal game streak come to an end on Friday, but he picked up two more assists, totaling 16 points in 21 AHL games.
The Reign are still waiting on a few more players to take that next step in their development, and one of those guys is Aidan Dudas.
The former fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft tallied two assists in a cup of coffee at the AHL level last season. Now a full-timer with the Reign, Dudas has four goals and five points in 19 games.
His production has been sporadic at best this season, with his last point coming on March 17 — a goal against Tuscon. Since then, he’s recorded a -6 rating in the last three games and owns a -9 rating on the year. Like several other players on the Ontario Reign’s roster, Dudas is still trying to find a consistent game at the AHL level.
“He’s a ways off,” Wroblewski said of Dudas. “He’s building an identity. He needs to be that the thorn in the side of the other team.”
Dudas recorded 31 goals and 65 points in 68 games during his draft year with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL. He wore letters in the last two seasons, including being named captain for Owen Sound in the 2019-20 season while recording 53 points in 48 games.
At 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Dudas was never going to physically overwhelm players at the next level. But that shouldn’t limit him from becoming the most annoying player on the ice, according to Wroblewski.
“His calling card is going to have to be that he’s the most annoying guy to play against that the other team absolutely hates it when he rolls the board,” the Reign head coach noted. “He’s got to be more of a pest. He’s got to be more pesky to play against, and that’s going to be his avenue to the NHL.”
The National Hockey League is chock-full of undersized players who have found success finding an identity and playing a bit out of their comfort zones to be a factor in games. Similar in stature, look no further than LA Kings Hall-of-Famer Marcel Dionne. Through his rugged style of play, Dionne logged 600 minutes in penalties, winning two Lady Byng trophies and receiving Hart Trophy considerations while averaging over a point-per-game throughout his NHL career.
Dudas has a long way to go to reach that status. He’s been dropped in the forward lineup, seeing less ice time than he did to start the season, so he’ll need to learn to do more with less until he can prove himself worthy of additional playing time.
“We’re seeing glimpses of it, but it’s not often enough,” Wroblewski concluded. “There’s a failed clear on the penalty kill tonight just for an example…if losing ice time as part of that equation, then so be it.”
Aidan Dudas and the Reign wrap up their two-game set against Tuscon on Saturday.